Learning to Relax

I think teaching children to become aware of their minds and bodies and giving them tools to slow down, unwind and relax is so important.

I was an anxious, shy, nervous child (and adult for that matter!) and discovered meditation in my early twenties. It's not an overstatement to say that meditation changed my life, helping me to relax and get control of my emotions. I only wish someone had given me some of those tools when I was much, much younger.

I try to pass on some of what I've learnt through meditation to my kids. I'm amazed at how receptive they are and how much they embrace the techniques we use. In my experience, kids have such an innate ability to just be in the moment as well as a wonderful sense of themselves. It's amazing what happens when this is nurtured.

I've also taught relaxation techniques to my Kinder groups over the years, so I thought I would share with you some of the exercises that have worked well with both my kids and my Kinder groups.

1. Counting

When Em was a baby, wiggling and complaining on the change table, I started to count to her rhythmically and slowly. She responded immediately, mesmerised by my words. Later, when she was having trouble settling at night, again I would count. Some nights I would get all the way up to 500, but eventually, she would unwind and go to sleep. The slow, even rhythm of sequential numbers is really soothing (and as a bonus, she could count to 100 at the age of 3!)

2. Guided Meditation CDs for Kids

I found this wonderful CD at a meditation workshop I did a couple of years ago. Em and I do it together sometimes and it is really, really good. It encourages the child to slowly relax each part of their bodies and then talks them through imagining gorgeous rainbow sparkles, falling all over them, making them healthy, happy and well. It also has a very nice "Parent's meditation" too. It's lovely.

3. Becoming Aware of the Breath

Encouraging your child to focus on their breath going in and out, filling and emptying their lungs is a lovely way to relax them. You can even encourage them to say words in their head while they do it, like inhale, exhale or in, out. Young children can't do this for too long, but it's amazing what a difference just 10 or so slow, deliberate breaths can make.

4. Touch

I've been doing a really great meditation course (which you can read about here) and we did an exercise a few weeks ago where we had to trace our fingers around our face and focus on the sensation of touch. Ed enjoys doing this. I slowly move just one finger over his face while he keeps his eyes closed. I talk him through it, talking about where I am tracing my finger. I encourage him to focus on how it feels on the different parts of his face.

5. Creative Visualisation

I've just reviewed a book over at Kids Book Review that is all about talking kids through guided meditations that boost creativity and help develop focus and concentration. You can read about the book here.

6. Watching a Flame

With one of my Kinder groups, we would light a candle and sit in a circle and watch the candle flicker and move for 5 minutes while being aware of our bodies and our breath. We would then often share our thoughts/feelings/observations. This was one of my first experiences of relaxation with young kids and I was amazed at how still they could be.

7. A Relaxation Cave

I will still often encourage Em to rest on the weekends and, at 7, she sometimes strongly opposes the idea. To try and woo her, I made her bedroom into a "Relaxation Cave" and she loved it! To be honest, all I did was make her room quite dark and put on some beautiful classical music and close her door. She totally bought the idea though and it has since become a bit of a Saturday ritual. She lies in her 'cave' for around half an hour

8. Story CDs

Story CDs are great for little ones. My kids have really loved them from about age 2 til about 5. While listening to a story is not strictly meditation, I encourage them to lie with their bodies really still and floppy and tell them to close their eyes and imagine the story in their head. This engages their focus and concentration and makes them one with the story, forgetting their cares and troubles. I think it's a great introduction.

9. Using the Body

Tai Chi and Yoga have some great poses and exercises that are really good for getting children to become aware of their body and the way it feels and moves. There are some lovely books to get started with. It's great to start with some poses and movement and then move into a creative visualisation story or a few minutes focusing on the breath.

10. Meditation Books for Kids

To be honest, we are just moving onto this area as Em is that bit older. I found this lovely book called "Small Souls" and we have only just started using it. It guides children through a meditation, focusing on a particular feeling or idea. This type of book is probably best for children who have had some experience of slowing themselves down and becoming aware.

How do you relax at your house? I would love to hear about it

Setting Up Lego Play

Lego has been the toy of choice here over the last couple of days. I haven't met many kids over the years who don't love playing with those cheerful, colourful, perfectly-sized little blocks.

The benefits of building with Lego are enormous. It
- works the fine motor muscles really, really well
- develops eye-hand co-ordination and spatial awareness
- builds on planning skills
- helps concentration
- brings attention to detail
- works pre-literacy skills when kids follow instructions to build something specific
- can be a wondeful medium for building imaginative play elements

I like to set it up like this.

I find it is much easier to find specific pieces when I take a few minutes to put the Lego into baskets and plastic containers. That means there's not a massive bucketful tipped out all over the floor and the kids don't need to break out of their creative momentum to go searching. That leaves more time for building, learning and fun!

Lots of fun with a Marble Run

One of our all-time favourite toys would have to be our Marble Run. I remembered the kids at kinder absolutely loving this toy, so I bought one for Em (well, Santa delivered one) when she was around 2.

She has had hours of fun with it and in the past year or so Ed has started to really enjoy it too.

It is something that requires a reasonable amount of adult-help to begin with. I've taken the time to build some runs with the kids so that get an idea about how it works.

But, once they get the hang of how it works, it allows for lots of opportunities to problem-solve, plan, build, co-operate, negotiate, follow instructions, imagine and create on your own, hypothesise and then of course, there's the irresistible fun of sending lots and lots of marbles scooting down the run.

If you don't have one at your house, I highly recommend it. It's worth investing a bit of money on one with lots of pieces and sturdy construction and buy an extra bag of marbles for even more fun!